After the success of Alanis Morissette on alternative radio, the floodgates opened for a massive variety of female-fronted rock bands on modern alt-rock radio. For every No Doubt, there was a Tracy Bonham, Goodness, Patti Rothberg, Sneaker Pimps, etc. And then there is Garbage, a band which features big-time producer Butch Vig (of ‘Nevermind’ mastering fame) as one of its members. Shirley Manson’s voice is often imitated but never duplicated and brings Scottish swagger to heady lyrics and heavy guitar.
Track one, Supervixen introduces the world to the album with drum kicks and distorted guitar before Shirley Manson brings her quiet vocal over clean guitar before both burst again, setting up a formula for much of Garbage’s catalog. However, the album really begins to be memorable with track two, the simply titled Queer. In this instance, queer seems to mean strange rather than homosexual, but nonetheless, the song is meant to suck you in and make you feel exactly what Garbage wants you to feel, pity and repulsion at the same time.
Where the band reaches immortality on the alternative stage is with track three, the incredibly titled Only Happy When It Rains. Complex lyrics, albiet mostly centering around water themes, evict the emotion of inverted comfort, finding joy when others are feeling morose. This song will forever be a staple of alternative rock, 90s rock, and later classic rock radio stations because of the wordplay and emotive force evinced within these four minutes of song.
From there, the album has a few forgettable tracks, such as Heaven is Wide and Stroke of Luck, but picks up again with track seven, Vow. This is the first song I ever heard from the band, their debut single. The lyrics are similarly complex and center around revenge and “tearing your little world apart”. Clearly somebody done Ms. Manson wrong and she is coming to collect.
Next up is Stupid Girl, a very good song, which just happens to only just avoid ripping off The Clash’s Train in Vain. The drum line is almost identical and at one point the guitar line is too. Still, the song was Garbage’s biggest charting hit, mostly because of the truths within the lyrics. Those center around pretending to be “high”, “bored” and “anything” only to be ignored, an issue many teenagers face when trying to find their place within their own little pocket of society.
From there, four more tracks round out the album, but there were enough hooks and ear worms upon which to build a very successful career. Butch Vig still produces the occasional album; Shirley Manson has long been considered a feminist icon based upon several of her views posed within Garbage’s first album. Lately, the band’s tactic has been to release one off singles to correspond with Record Store Day, not that I’m complaining. Predominantly, these have been quality singles.